Cemetary Dance Review

Lack of Distinction(s)

A good argument can be made, although I'll not make it here, that distinctions between science fiction, fantasy, and horror have been detrimental to the fiction of the fantastic for a number of years.

For those of us who were first attracted to "genre" by the dangerous visions of Harlan Ellison, P. K. Dick, Samuel Delany, Fritz Lieber, J. G. Ballard, Roger Zelazny, and so many others, our fictional faith was founded in imaginative literature as a whole, without regard for distinctions between what was called science fiction, fantasy, or horror, let alone further definitions between sub-genera.

We were attracted by the ideas and the imagination of the fiction. Although they were never the main attraction, we even enjoyed the occasional ride on a shiny spaceship of hard SF (especially if the characters were as important as the hardware) or liked the mighty swing of a barbarian sword once in awhile (if there was as much style as sinew and a real story). Give us the best wizardry laced with allegorical wisdom and we'd warm up to it. We'd even slum with the devil's spawn and make out with the occasional monster — if they were revelatory re-inventions and not rehashed regurgitations.

Some of us preferred the darker brew more often than not, but it was still part of the mix and it still is. Even if "science fiction readers" get ill at the thought of a unicorn, they do not disdain good "fantasy." SF/F readers who say "I don't like horror" will invariably admit they love certain works of literature that are, without any cognitive stretch, "horror" or "dark fantasy."

I'm not denying there are identifiable differences in the whole. It is just that we'd all be better served by a recognition of good fantastic literature and a devotion to high quality rather than quantifiers. Instead of "supporting the genre," support what's best about it. Realize nothing is gained, and quite a bit is lost, by sustaining anything simple because it's called by one name or another.

Golden Gryphon

Golden Gryphon Press was founded in 1996 by James Turner. Starting in 1971 Turner had been the editor at historically important small press Arkham House. He'd continued to publish the canonical authors, but started concentrating more on contemporary science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers, showcasing them in high quality short story collections. The way I heard the story, Arkham's owners fired him in 1996, because they wanted to focus on what had gone before (a.k.a. "classics") as opposed to authors who were still alive and kicking.

So, Turner established Golden Gryphon, and continued to publish contemporary authors of merit in well-turned-out tomes. Turner died in 1999 and his brother, Gary, and Gary's wife, Geri, took over the press. Marty Halpern signed on as an editor in 1999. By the end of this year, Golden Gryphon will have published a total of 40 books and have a roster of authors that includes Kage Baker, Neal Barrett Jr., Michael Bishop, Andy Duncan, George Alec Effinger, Jeffrey Ford, Nancy Kress, Joe R. Lansdale, Richard Paul Russo, Pamela Sargent, Lucius Shepard, Howard Waldrop, and Ian Watson.

At this writing (early May) Golden Gryphon has four "dark" titles fairly hot off the presses. Not only are all four worth reading, they happen to be good examples of how the best fiction continues to further blur genre delineations.

Secret Life
Jeff VanderMeer
Golden Gryphon. $24.95. 310p
ISBN: 19308462581

Like McLeod's stories in Breathmoss, Jeff VanderMeer's fiction is most commonly found these days just about anywhere but in the pages of anything called "horror." More experimental in style than McLeod's work, the stories of Secret Life are even more varied and less possible to summarize. What, after all, can you glean from a reviewer writing: The eponymous opening story mythologizes an office building, turning the mundane — a missing pen, an office plant, a certain floor — into a surreal dream/nightmare that rings truer than reality? Or: The story of Manco Tupac, the last surviving Inca, who tells a reporter a strange impossible tale — of which the possible parts are the most disturbing. Or: In "Detectives and Cadavers," we (and the author) first glimpse the dark city of Veniss that he later developed in the novel Veniss Underground. How about: The haunting novella "Balzac's War" is set in the same dark future where dead soldiers are bioengineered into something not quite alive and the enemy shapes those of your species and sends them in the "guise of a flesh dog, mouthing your own name or the name of your beloved" as the creatures fight you to your death.

I didn't think it would help.

If there is any recurring theme in these 23 stories written over a 15-year period, it might be rebirth. There's a recognition of the sheer transformative strength needed to be fully human in these stories, although none of them state that in so many words. There's nothing escapist about these fictions. Most succeed in entertaining as well as confronting. Perhaps that's the darkest part of them: the recognition that no one escapes the darkness, but we survive it and are changed in the process. VanderMeer's unique visions appear to be effortless manifestations of shamanistic dreams and future precognitions, but it is the author's meticulous craft that makes them appear so. Secret Life is another revelatory exercise from an author who is beginning to take his place among the other masters of the fantastic.

— Paula Guran, Cemetary Dance #50, 2004

[Note: The three other Golden Gryphon Press books reviewed in this article were Bumper Crop by Joe R. Lansdale, Breathmoss and Other Exhalations by Ian R. MacLeod, and The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross.]


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